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January 2022

"The Balkans"

by Misha Glenny 

Granta Books

The book "The Balkans" describes and analyses a period from 1804, which coincides with the beginning of "national awakenings" in the Balkans, almost to the present day. The book goes through periods and historical phenomena crucial to developing an understanding of the Balkan peninsula: The struggle to build modern states,  the alignment with great powers in WWI, dictatorships in the interwar period, German occupation in WWII, and, with the exeption of Greece and Turkey, communist rule. The book follows a chronological order and chapters are usually dedicated to the developments of one state in a period. The book encourages thought about tendencies that repeatedly determine the fate of the Balkan peninsula. Some examples I found interesting are the irredentist and revisionist ideals of many Balkan peoples (Greece's "Megali Idea" for example) and the concept of a union of the southern slavs, Yugoslavia. Apart from insights into the Balkans, the book also offers valuable information about the world at the time, and, particularly, in the arena of diplomacy. In the turbulent area of the Balkans, power blocks have for a long time competed for a lasting influence especially in war. In most of the Balkan countries there were bitter disputes about which side to join in WWI. After WWII, the Greek Civil War  is arguably the "1st conflict" in the context of the Cold War. The book culminates in an important chapter on the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, which the author covered as a journalist. This penultimate chapter is the key to understanding the dangers of large federations of states, and, most importantly, how to achieve peaceful cooperation with many nations united in one state. This book is a very good way not only to understand the history past and present of the Balkan peninsula, but also some important concepts and ideas relevant to world history!

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